March 13 2017

Talk the Talk: Connecting with March Madness Fans

Thought Leadership, Basketball, Netbase, March Madness, Social Media

Simon Wardle, Chief Strategy Officer

The action-packed month of NCAA basketball filled with upsets, Cinderella stories and buzzer-beaters brings fans and alumni together like no other competition. And where can every fan come together to gloat, commiserate and share the anxiety? On social media. This month clever brands have an opportunity to get in on the madness and make an impact on consumers.

Along with our partners at Netbase, we examined the top emojis and hashtags used during the 2016 NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament.  Here are some key insights and social media implications for brands looking to connect with fans during this year’s tournament:

Team Devotion (Part 1): According to our very own Passion Drivers® research, Team Devotion is the number one motivating factor for NCAA Men’s Basketball fans. Of the top 10 hashtags used during last year’s tournament, four were devoted to the Final Four teams. That’s no surprise.

Team Devotion (Part 2): What is notable, is that three of the tags included a call to action or a rally cry for the teams, not just the standard team name. #NovaNation, #HeelsLockIn and #CuseMode helped to organize the conversation and connect fans. In addition, they incited an added layer of community or incorporated a call to action into the core of the message and also add a further layer of authentic fan-speak for brands that integrate these tags in addition to the standard team hashtag.

Triumph and Heartbreak: An emoji can often tell a fan’s story better than any combination of words. Among the top 20 emojis used, nearly half expressed a specific fan emotion. Whether it’s shock and awe, agony of defeat or total elation, those 60+ smileys and people are all a fan needs to speak the new language of fandom.

Misery Loves Company: There is no feeling more relatable than having one of your Final Four teams go down on opening weekend. Not surprising, #BracketBusted was among the top hashtags last year. Brands should consider commiserating alongside the fans. Use this opportunity to engage with consumers through a relatable, personal emotion. Milestones within the tournament, like #Sweet16 and #Elite8, are also good ways for brands to stay connected with fans without showing allegiances to a specific school.

Get Creative: Fans express their tribalism through emojis – and when there isn’t an official emoji for their school, they get creative. Syracuse fans used the orange fruit emoji, Duke fans used the Purple Devil emoji (close enough to blue, we suppose?). In the absence of an official emoji to use in posts, brands should embrace their inner millennial and get creative too.  Caution, images can be interpreted many ways, find a second or third set of eyes before the post goes live.

Self Expression: Netbase’s list of top emojis from last year’s tournament includes several skin tone modifiers ranked in the top 20. This reinforces that fans are embracing opportunities to customize their social content and emojis in order to better reflect themselves as fans.  For brand marketers, consider how your sports and entertainment campaigns are providing consumers with opportunities to showcase their fandom alongside their personal identity.

Bring Method to The Madness: As sports marketers, we need to embrace this new lexicon of sports fans and engage with them in terms they can relate to. Fans will embrace it and they will embrace your brand if you talk their language.


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